Utopian Mirage


Katherine Newbegin's photographs of the abandoned Sugar Maples Resort in Greene County examine how American notions of the ideal family vacation, a kind of utopia, have shifted over time. "These families would come back to the same resort year and after year," Newbegin said. "They would rent the same room, have the same neighbors." The 30-year-old artist's images show evidence of years of neglect, but hint at the heyday of the Catskills resort era. "The photographs for me also have this passage of time," Newbegin said. "The traces on the wallpaper where the water has stained things. The water glasses left on the messy bed as if somebody just walked out the door yesterday. So strange."

Opening today, Newbegin's photographs are part of "Utopian Mirage: Social Metaphors in Contemporary Photography and Film," a new exhibition that opens today at Vassar College's Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. "I felt as though this idea of the failed utopian ideal was very prominent and timely in our society," said Mary-Kay Lombino, the art center's Emily Hargroves Fisher '57 and Richard B. Fisher Curator. Although Newbegin did not stage her photographs, she does not consider them documentary style either. "I am more interested in the experience that happens when you're standing in the empty room and you feel this resonance of all these lives that have passed through this space," she said. She also explores the family vacation as a status symbol of the middle class. "I think it has to do with the idealization of vacation and the failure of that," she said.

Lombino has chosen artists that explore the following themes: nature vs. technology, local vs. global, rural vs. urban and individual vs. collective. Their work examines landscapes, cityscapes, architecture, interiors, residential communities and suburbia. Tom Bamberger's "Grilling in the Suburbs" a black-and-white photograph made in 1991, depicts a bored couple barbecuing in the midst of a treeless housing development. The Milwaukee-born artist will participate in a June 8 panel discussion, "Visions of Utopia: Architecture in Theory and Practice," at Vassar. Susan Silton's "Infested" series captures homes in upscale Los Angeles neighborhoods that were tented for termite fumigation. Both artists cut at the ideal notion of suburbia as a place to escape for the American dream, Lombino said. Other artists explore mankind's complicated relationship with nature.

"Once we decide where we want our utopia to be, then we want to be able to occupy that land," Lombino said. "That theme is especially prominent in our lives, thoughts and in our art today. The issues of the environment and dwindling natural resources: as much as they may weigh on our consciences, our desires to reach these dreams are just as strong."

Reach Kathleen Wereszynski Murray at kmurray@poughkeepsiejournal.com or 845-437-4881. Copyright (c) Poughkeepsie Journal. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.

-Kathleen Wereszynski Murray

Return to Reviews